As the Montreal Canadiens continue with their rebuild, general manager (GM) Kent Hughes has been adding exciting prospects at every position. However, there has been some concern with goaltending depth in the Habs’ system, and specifically with the overall skill level, as no one in the system has proven themselves to be worthy of the label of “future NHL starter.”
In the Canadiens’ System
The current tandem in net is Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault. While they have played well, no one is expecting either of them to become the goaltender of the future. The Canadiens did have one they had hoped could meet that label, Cayden Primeau, but Hughes does not want to place that label on this young goalie.
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Primeau, who will no longer be waiver-exempt next season, is still the only option as the heir to the Montreal crease. He’s under contract for $890,000 annually until 2024-25, when he becomes a restricted free agent (RFA), but his .893 save percentage in his first 12 games this season doesn’t provide management or the fan base a sense of security.
“We must remain patient with Primeau, at 22 he is still young. We can’t judge too harshly on only statistics when he was recalled because he was playing with the worst team in the league (NHL).”-Stephane Waite (Cayden Primeau toujours le gardien d’avenir, assure Stéphane Waite, Mathias Brunet, La Presse, 27 January 2022)
With Northeastern University, he compiled a 44-18-6 record in 70 games with a 2.00 goals-against average (GAA) and an SV% of .932 before signing with the Habs. Since his leap to the professional ranks, however, outside of a deep playoff run with American Hockey League (AHL) Laval, where he put up a .936 save percentage in 14 games, his performances have not been convincing enough to label him a future NHL starting goaltender.
This first target is likely to be the one reported to be in Hughes’ sights, Buffalo Sabres prospect Devon Levi. According to Maxime Truman on BPM Sports, a French language radio station, the Canadiens have a significant interest in acquiring him.
Levi is currently playing with the Northeastern University of the NCAA, a team Hughes is very familiar with as his son, Jack Hughes, is a teammate of Levi’s. At only 6-foot-0, Levi is considered undersized. However, at only 20 years of age, time is on his side. But if he can repeat his performance from last season (.952 save percentage with a 21-10-1 record), he could force the Sabres’ hand to make space for him in their system. Currently, Buffalo has a wealth of quality goaltending prospects, with two more potential starters in Eric Portillo and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
Why Portillo? He has the athleticism but also the size. At 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds, he fits the prototypical frame scouts are desperately in search of. He can remain calm and composed in the heat of competition, much like former Habs star Carey Price was known for. The Canadiens will need patience with him as well, as, like Levi, Portillo is remaining in the NCAA for at least this season.
If not Levi, then Hughes could try and convince Buffalo to part with one of the other prospects. But what could it cost to convince a division rival, who is also in a rebuild, to deal with them? Buffalo does need to add skill on the wings and at center as well. It will take more than Jan Mysak and a late pick —Sean Farrell could be part of a package — but the Sabres could just as easily ask for Owen Beck.
Canadiens Carpet Bombing for Goalies
If Buffalo isn’t willing to deal or dislikes the package Hughes offers, maybe he can move onto a team he has a good history of making deals with, the Calgary Flames. Dustin Wolf could be seen as an improvement over Primeau. Wolf’s technique is sound, and like Levi, he’s undersized at 6-foot-0 and has also won a World Junior Championship gold medal. His consistent performances have been proving people wrong for some time. And with Calgary set in goal with a high-priced starter, he could be made available.
In the end, Hughes will need to improve his chances of having a strong starting goaltender to backstop the Canadiens when their Cup contending window opens in a few seasons. He does have the luxury of time and patience for now. However, the one gaping need in the Canadiens’ system is in goal, and if Hughes can fill that need, it could shorten the time the rebuild will take.